February 03, 2010

Stirring up memories of the 1940s

As published in The Erin Advocate

Erin's Main Street has seen many changes in the last 66 years, and Eleanor Lougheed has had a good view of the progress – all through the same front window.

I sat down with her last week to find out what village life was like in the 1940s, and she had many fond memories of that era. She was born in Toronto, but later moved to a farm near Grand Valley, where she married Cliff Lougheed.

The couple moved to Erin in 1940 when Cliff went to work at Bob Lang's creamery, located with an egg grading station on the property now occupied by the LCBO outlet. They lived in the apartment above the creamery for four years, then moved across the street to the house where she still lives, just south of the river.

They put a lot of work into the place and there was never a good enough reason to move. They raised their son and two daughters there, becoming an integral part of the village.

"You knew everyone, and everyone knew you. I wouldn't want to live anywhere else. I live in the best place in the world, as far as I'm concerned," she said, though she does miss the days when the Advocate reported all the details of village social life.

In the morning, she would head out with a pail to pump good drinking water from a communal well. Many homes also had cisterns to collect rainwater for washing needs.

Outhouses were common in small-town Ontario, and it was not until 1957 that their family had an indoor bathroom, with water piped in from a well they shared with two other homes. A few years later when the road was torn up to build the water works, they were not pleased to learn they would have to pay for municipal water whether they hooked up or not.

"It was progress, and definitely needed – things can't stay the same," she said.

Cliff passed away five years ago. He preferred to work in the village, though he did haul poultry to Toronto for about ten years. He was well-known as an ice cream maker at Steen's Dairy, an ice maker at the Agricultural Building arena and a sharpener of skates.

Eleanor stays active with her flower and vegetable gardens, does her own housework, walks her dog Shadow twice a day, and keeps up on the news of the day.

She remembers when milk was delivered to the porch – you just left out your empty bottle, with money in it. As a member of the United Church congregation, she would not think of calling a minister by his first name – until the Reverend Jeff Davison changed that tradition.

In the '40s, they did not have a phone, so they would walk down to the phone company office (where the Valu-Mart parking lot is now) and pay to make their calls. During the war, families got a booklet of ration coupons that allowed them to buy limited quantities of meat, butter and sugar at the three grocery stores.

There was a blacksmith shop across the street, and where the Village Fish shop is now, there was a car repair garage on ground level, with shoes and boots manufactured upstairs. There was a bakery shop where the Mundell's parking lot is now, and a small library was set up in the front of the Mundell's store.

Erin's electric power had been generated at Church's Falls in Cataract since 1899, and Eleanor recalls paying their bill to the Caledon Electric Company, which was bought out by Ontario Hydro in 1944.

The Lougheeds had a grass tennis court behind their house, and their property extended to the top of what is now called the Water Tower Hill – they sold some land there so the tower could be built. The old village dump was on the other side of the hill.

For entertainment, there were plays and musical performances at the auditorium in the Village Hall at 109 Main Street (a village choir was open to all), but for movies, people had to drive to Guelph or Orangeville.

Of course, the Fall Fair on Thanksgiving Weekend was the event of the year, just as it had been since 1850. Fortunately, some things don't change.